BECKLEY – The estates of three miners killed in the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine have filed a lawsuit that alleges Alpha Natural Resources has not paid them the $1.5 million each it promised.

The estates of Grover Skeens, Charles T. Davis and Cory Davis filed a lawsuit July 17 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia at Beckley against Alpha, which purchased Massey after the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.

The lawsuit says that as a result of a non-prosecution agreement signed by Alpha in December 2011, it agreed to pay $1.5 million to each of the families of the miners killed. It alleges that 11 families have not been paid, and that funds recovered in wrongful death lawsuits should not count toward that $1.5 million figure.

The attorneys representing the plaintiffs are J. Michael Ranson and Cynthia Ranson of Ranson Law Offices and G. Patrick Jacobs of Jacobs Law Office, both of Charleston.

“(A)n agreement to make voluntary restitution payments to families to avoid criminal prosecution is not the same as payments pursuant to a wrongful death claim in which monies may be paid to non-family members,” the complaint says.

“As further proof, Plaintiffs state that one group of fallen family members were paid the publically announce $1,500,000.00 in excess of whatever monies were paid to resolve wrongful death claims while a second group, including the plaintiffs, has not received said restitution payment.”

At issue is Appendix C of the non-prosecution agreement, which states “$16,500,000.00 was previously or anticipated to be paid as part of settlements with the families of eleven of the fallen miners in the actions.”

Monies paid for wrongful death settlements were not paid to “families” but instead to individuals having claims under the West Virginia Wrongful Death statute, the complaint says.

The settling parties in the wrongful death claims did not include Alpha, it adds.

“(W)hen the Plaintiffs signed settlement agreements with prior parties a key element was that the settlements would remain confidential and not be disclosed and that the settlement amounts would remain under the seal of the Court,” the complaint says.

“(T)he non-prosecution agreement is a public document and was released by the Defendants for public review.”

“(T)he $16,500,000.00 cannot be referring to monies paid to estates as wrongful death money, because any monies paid to estates would be under strict confidential agreements and certainly could not be placed in a public document or used by the Defendants as justification for publically not being prosecuted.”

The complaint says one group of family members were paid the $1.5 million in excess of wrongful death settlements.

The counts made in the complaint are enforcement of contractual obligation, enforcement of settlement agreements, failure to pay $500,000 to the estates, civil conspiracy and breach of confidentiality.

The complaint also seeks punitive damages for any fraud or civil conspiracy that was committed.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O'Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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